Why does it matter if Jesus would wear a sidearm?

At the end of last week, liberals were passing around this documentary about Reverend Rob Schenk, the anti-gay, anti-abortion pastor who left the Republican Party over his deeply-held religious belief in gun control. The personified form of every political cartoon you’ve seen asking why “pro-life” conservatives hate abortion but love guns, Schenk calls gun violence in America “adult abortion,” and justifies his stance against gun violence with his Christian faith.

This has led Schenk to confront his fellow conservatives who couch their pro-gun arguments in Biblical language, calling responsible gun ownership essential in the protection of innocent life. As the lines have become blurred between Evangelical religion and conservative politics, this makes Schenk an outlier — the subject of enough interest to make a documentary highlighting his struggle. And proving a point.

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It’s a nice video. Schenk seems like a nice enough guy who disagrees with me about everything except this one major political issue. But unlike the many who shared it, and presumably the filmmakers themselves, I don’t feel like it amounts to a trump card that means, once and for all, that my team is on the winning side of a political debate — a debate that shouldn’t be held on religious grounds in the first place.

Christ, with a sidearm of sorts, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus, with a sidearm of sorts, via Wikimedia Commons

You can go into the Bible and find justifications for pretty much whatever you want. And it’s important that when conservatives use the Bible to justify all kinds of bad ideas, someone bothers to point out that you can use the Bible to declare all of those bad ideas, well, bad. Think the Bible prohibits abortion? Here’s chapter and verse explaining why it doesn’t. Think God mandates that you hate all the gays? You need a better translation and a closer reading of your Bible. God gave us this Earth to exploit for our benefit? The Pope says you’re wrong, and he knows God better than you. Right?

It’s important to raise these Biblical objections to Biblical arguments not because it makes us right, but because it knocks the Bible off the table entirely. There is a spirited, secular debate to be had about all of our major social questions, but it can only begin when both sides drop the idea that a book which claims tautological infallibility is squarely in their camp. So, insofar as I can use the Bible to force a conversation back to secular terms, the Bible is useful.

But let’s not confuse being able to make a point using the Bible with having the Bible prove us right. When the Pope visited the United States in September, liberals cheered every time he pushed one of our liberal buttons on climate change, economic inequality and the death penalty. And it felt great to have a religious leader agree with us for a change. But while the Pope may have planted his flag on the same ground we did with respect to some of our most pressing political issues, the path he took to get there doesn’t make any sense. “Because God says so” is no stronger of an argument when made in defense of a position we agree with than it is in defense of a position we don’t.

What cases like Rob Schenk and Pope Francis really show is that the Bible is a crutch we use to get wherever we wanted to go in the first place, not a guide that we follow to wherever it will take us. At the end of the day, we decide the big questions as to how best to live together for ourselves. So sure, it’s useful for Rob Schenk to ask his fellow believers if they think Jesus would have worn a sidearm, but we don’t need Jesus to figure out if any of us should.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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